Wolf Creek (2005)
By: Trist Jones on February 17, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Optimum Home Entertainment (UK). Region 2, PAL. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0. English DD 5.1. 94 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Director: Greg McLean
Starring: John Jarratt, Cassandra Magrath, Nathan Phillips, Kestie Morassi
Screenplay: Greg McLean
Country: Australia
There was an incredible amount of hype coming from the U.S. about Wolf Creek long before it hit Australian cinema screens. It was borderline sensationalism. I didn't think, given what had come before, that all of this word of mouth (which, at the time was spreading like a plague) would be justified. There were reports coming from various screenings in the U.K. and the U.S. where people were so impacted by what they'd just seen, that they couldn't separate the film's lead, John Jarratt, from his psychotic onscreen personality and some were shocked that the two girls who also starred in the film could stand near him.

Based loosely on the notorious backpacker murders committed by Ivan Milat, and more recently by Bradley John Murdoch, Wolf Creek presents us with Ben (Nathan Philips), a Sydney-sider travelling across Australia with Brit backpackers Liz (Cassandra McGrath) and Kristy (Kestie Morassi). For the most part everything runs smoothly until predictably (I mean that in the nicest possible way – this is a horror film after all!) their car kicks the bucket just outside Wolf Creek National Park, and local man Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) comes to their aide. You can tell from the get go where things are going…

Wolf Creek follows the same basic premise as it's predecessors, but it's the execution that sets it apart. You know what's going to happen, but Wolf Creek gives it to you in a way you aren't expecting, when you aren't expecting it. It's continually playing on the viewer's expectations. Based on the global reaction to this film, I thought I was in for an experience similar to the Texas Chainsaw remake; an enjoyable one, but overrated in terms of shock value. Man, was I wrong. With the expectations set optimistically low, I was genuinely disturbed by the brutality and ruthlessness in which the latter sections of the film played out. While not as explicit or persistently violent as so many American efforts can be (*cough*Devil's Rejects*cough*), Wolf Creek soars ahead of such films by creating a very raw and incredibly intense experience through realism and minimalism. What plays out at the end of a fairly lengthy chase sequence has been seared into my memory, and shocked me far more with so little than the entirety of Rob Zombie's recent trash-fest.

The dynamic between our three protagonists is totally believable. They all exude their own individual charisma and you warm very quickly to each of them. Any preconceived notions of horror film stock characters can be thrown out the window, because each of the three is portrayed with an extremely well developed sense of naturalism. But it really is John Jarratt who dominates this film. From his first appearance on screen, he automatically commands attention. His Mick Taylor is so well presented that you really do love him for a while, even though you know exactly what he is beneath it all. A friend of mine was so surprised by his initial performance that he thought (and half hoped) he'd walked into some sort of special screening where he came and helped them out and sent them on their way, the film ending on a happy note. But then of course reality sets in and he becomes a genuinely frightening presence. The harrowing ordeal that follows is made even more so by the performances given. You wear down as they wear down. Sure, there are a couple of moments where you question the logic behind certain decisions, but these are forgivable in the long run, as I can't bring a single horror film to mind where I haven't questioned the motives of particular individuals, and in the bigger picture it's only a minor misdemeanour (the video camera sequence was a little prolonged though).

Visually, Wolf Creek is stunning. The whole film was shot in Hi-Def and later transferred to 35mm, and outside of a couple of brief shots, you would never have known. The wide open shots of the Australian outback are incredible to look at, and at the same time provide the film with the ominous feeling of isolation and the harrowing reality of the situation ahead. Cinematographer Will Gibson has done a fantastic job, and never misses a beat. It's always good too when you get a filmmaker from an art background, as they generally have a great grasp on image composition and how to express things best visually and Greg Maclean is no exception. It's also great to see through the extras on the disc that, being from the art background, he isn't particularly precious or overly poncy about anything. He knows what he wants and how to get it and remains down to earth about it all.

The soundscape and scoring by Frank Tetaz thankfully plays with the less is more idea of film making. The score is never obtrusive and the recurring use of percussive sounds (sort of like a metal drum being struck and ringing out) helps build on the idea that the land itself is as imposing as the fate we know awaits our lead characters.
Video
Wolf Creek is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic and only bears it's video origins in a few brief shots. The image is incredibly clean compared to a number of other films shot on Hi-Def (such as Collateral or 28 Days Later… - both excellent films in their own right) and you'd swear it was shot on film. The film transfer must have also gone smoothly as there are no imperfections or artefacts that appear in the DVD transfer.
Audio
The 5.1 mix is incredible to hear. Turned up loud, the atmosphere created by the sound mix draws you in that much more and the sounds, particularly the resonating bass in the soundtrack really starts bearing down on you if you become aware of it, and even if you don't it certainly helps the film itself do so. There's also a really fun and extremely informative commentary track provided by Greg Maclean, Cassandra McGrath, Kestie Morassi and producer Matt Hearn. Completely removes any terror from the film though, as they tend to relate stories to particular sequences that just about always manage to raise a laugh if not a smile.
Extra Features
The region 2 DVD comes with a second disc that isn't quite loaded with extras, but what's there gives you a great wealth of information about film and it's making. You get a 50 minute doco chronicling the making of Wolf Creek, which is excellent in that it doesn't beat around the bush like a number of other making of extras tend to. What you get is a very down to earth insight into just about everything that went into the making of the film. From the acting and filming techniques used, the technologies employed, and the onset relationships to the work ethics and weather troubles, and what to do when such problems present themselves, it's pretty much all addressed in this doco. You also find out (along with the audio commentary) just how much improvisation went into this film.

There's also an interview with John Jarratt that clocks in at around half an hour taken obviously from a British screening of the film which is fascinating to watch as you can clearly see the extent of Jarratt's character work that went into Mick Taylor. It's like watching a completely different person.

As I said, there's the audio commentary, you also get the international trailers and T.V. spots from the UK, along with trailers for Switchblade Romance and an interesting looking film called Dead Man's Shoes. There's also a preview clip of an upcoming American horror called Cry Wolf, which I suspect was only really attached because of the vague 'wolf' linkage.

Finally, there are a couple of deleted scenes that don't really have too much bearing on the film, dealing predominantly with a discarded subplot regarding the relationship between the three, and another showing Liz making a particularly nasty discovery.
The Verdict
Rightfully earning it's place with the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and other such titles that it is continually compared to, Wolf Creek simply has to be seen by anyone who calls themselves a fan of this little genre we call horror. It's good to know that America can waste so much money on their horror films and have them still look like shit, and then a gem like this is made right in our backyard for only a few million Aussie dollars.

See it.
Movie Score
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